wine(s) in the spotlight: euro-gon!

Friday, February 04, 2011

The trend toward Euro-style wines, both red and white, is clearly gaining momentum here in the Pacific Northwest. As vintners explore less obvious ground, and as vines in more marginal locations get their roots well-established, the opportunity to make wines that display breed, elegance and finesse – without suffering from the veggies – is compelling.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in some of the more obscure AVAs such as the Columbia Gorge and the Rogue Valley of Oregon. In recent tastings, wine after wine from these areas has surprised and delighted with flavors that are subtle and deep.

True confession: after an afternoon of tasting high octane domestic wines, I will often head for the cellar to pull up something from Burgundy or the Loire that clocks in around 13%. But for the past few nights I’ve happily consumed (with help from Mrs. G) wines that were so European in style that I’ve decided to name a new category… Euro-gon.

Foris Vineyards Winery in the Illinois Valley (a cool, mountainous subset of the Rogue Valley AVA) has just released a marvelous assortment of steely, bracing white wines, all at reasonable prices. A riesling, a gewürztraminer, a crisply pleasing pinot blanc, and a pinot gris that puts an Alpine twist on its flavors, with lemon peel, pineapple, lime, and just a touch of honey all mingling beautifully. All around $14 a bottle, and averaging just over 13% alcohol.

Here’s another Rogue Valley gem: the Velo 2009 Malbec Rosé from Velocity Cellars ($16). Fresh and loaded with spicy strawberry and melon fruit, this is finished at just 12.5% alcohol. Take a sip and imagine you are in a café on the Côte Azur, scarfing down some fresh calamari under a springtime sun.

At the other end of the state, on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, winemaker Rich Cushman, now joined by his son Peter, continues to break new ground. Most recently, along with a pair of true icewines (not cryogenic) from the Gorge, Viento has released a 2009 Old Vines Dry Riesling ($20) that could have come from the Rheingau. From vines planted 28 years ago, this dense, dry, 12.2% alcohol wine has marvelous grip and body, bright fruit, and remarkable depth. One of those “short bottles” that seems to disappear in the blink of an eye.

And last but not least is an unusual Syrah from Amalie Robert. Their 2008 Satisfaction Syrah ($35) carries a Willamette Valley AVA. It is impressively dark and displays the gamy/meaty/peppery character of the grape – flavors that are often lost in a hotter climate. With alcohol listed at just 12.3%, this sets a new standard for domestic Euro-style Syrah.


Cabfrancophile said...

It seems like you're saying you have different criteria for tasting vs. drinking wine. Do you think in the future there may be room for considering table wine and competitive wine in different categories? I'm not sure what to call the wine between table (somewhere from 12%-14.5% ABV, dry) and dessert (up to 20% ABV, sweet), but if they are for tasting and not drinking, they deserve their own category. Or rather, drinking wines deserve their own category. You definitely differentiate them in your consumption.

PaulG said...

Cabfranc - I see how you could draw that conclusion, but it's more a case of palate fatigue after tasting 15 or 20 high powered wines. On their own I often like them. But it's the same as a winemaker wanting a beer after a long day of blending trials. You need something racy, high acid, to freshen the palate.

Wine Harlots said...

Illinois Valley AVA?
Who knew?
Thanks for the info.

Jeff V. said...

Paul, I'm not sure that this style is entirely new. Oregon has been making Euro-style (light) wines for decades. The Sommer's, Lett's, and Coury's of the world came to the Umpqua (Sommer) and Willamette Valley's (Lett, Coury) because the climate was similar to Alsace and to a lesser extent Burgundy. In Southern Oregon, you have folks who planted there because of it's similar climate to Rioja, Spain.

It's amusing when I hear people in the wine industry try and neglect their own Eurocentric wine origins. I've met numerous winemakers in WA/OR that site European wines as their inspiration. If you were to glance around in their personal wine cellars, you will see an overwhelming amount of European wines. Certainly, they drink beer in the winery, but I can assure you that they are drinking European wines at home. What is worrisome is "regionalism" in the wine business. Washington, Oregon, and California suffer from this. The insecurity is palpable. You're looked at like a traitor. I really feel sorry for folks that only drink WA wines or OR wines or CA wines. How boring. Instead of this separation, there should be more understanding of wines continuum, because Cabernet Sauvignon is not indigenous to Red Mountain and most of those oak barrels, pumps, hoses, tanks, and bottles are most likely from Europe.

I think it's only natural to emulate a style of wine that you enjoy. Maybe it is as simple as that.

Besides, there seems to be a collective palate fatigue for these highly concentrated, high alcohol, high oak influenced, wines. They certainly can be enjoyable, but not for everyday consumption.

Nice pick on the Amalie Robert's Syrah. It's one of my favorites, and now it's going to be harder for me to get! Ha Ha. I'm very happy and hopeful that your readers will seek it out. In addition, I would direct people to the Amalie Robert Pinot Meunier, which is stunning.

Maybe wines of elegance are coming into fashion again. You know what they say: "What's old, is new again."

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